Liquid Perspective

story © Michael Betancourt, July 30, 1997 all rights reserved.


I make pictures where the space of the picture is really flat, but you think it isn’t at first. It looks like it has some depth -- maybe not much, but some -- but then you see something else that forces you to change how you thought about the space, and then you realize it wasn’t at all the way it looked at first. You can’t do that with real pictures, ones made that try to be like reality. The Japanese try to build rock gardens that make you rethink arrangements with your memory, but it just isn’t the same as a picture. Their idea of “ma” I like. It’s about the way our memory of what we’ve seen shapes our understanding of what we’re seeing now. That’s what they try to show with their rock gardens.

My pictures don’t use their idea of “ma” but it’s related to what I do. I don’t know a word that describes what I do very well. “Liquid Perspective” was suggested by a friend of mine, and I like that idea too. The perspective just flows around the picture and you get carried with it.

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I make two kinds of pictures -- both projected on screens -- Statics and Movies. Statics just sit there, and Movies move. Projections are better than regular artwork because they don’t take up any space except when you want them to. The rest of the time they’re just potential pictures. They aren’t real until you project them, and then they stay very, very thin. You can’t touch them they’re so thin. I like that my work is all immaterial. It’s only there when you want it. This is the best kind of art because it goes away when you don’t want it, unlike regular art or the media which are always trying to get you to look at them.

And looking at a projection takes us back to the beginnings of the modern world. We go into a dark room and there are pictures on the wall, just like in a camera obscura. That always seemed like a fun thing to do. Going to a movie theater and watching one there isn’t as good because people yell at you and throw things when you walk up to the screen to get a better look. Those movies are also just like the other media, even though they’re projections. They want you to sit back and watch them. They don’t go away when you don’t want them.

When I write about my work I try to make it as clear as possible. That means what I write is simple, easy to understand. Too much art has long, difficult texts written to go with it that don’t make understanding the work any easier. I think that’s the point, but I know that if I make my work sound difficult when it isn’t people will be disappointed, so I make it simple when it isn’t. That way they can feel smarter when they look at it.

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The idea of perceived space -- physical depth, dimensions, forms -- is implicit in all froms of realist imaging. Depending upon the function of that representation socially -- its perceived use in the culture which produces it -- we are limited in our options of how the image is formulated. The training which all artists and craftsmen undergo, either of their own accord or through subservience to a school or master, serves to instil this culturally defined series of forms and uses into the artist at such a time and in such a fashion that the training is itself invisible (often) to teh artist. This is the reason that the code which allows certain images their appearance as representation is debated, denied or ignored. Unlike verbal languages, visual (perceptual) languages are a combination of physiology interacting with the specifics of a cultures heritage. These together mask what is taught to the artists themselves, and is what makes their ‘mastery’ evident to their teachers.

However, it is in the construction of an image (which is what I choose to focus upon) whether its photographic or otherwise, for us to recognize it as being ‘realist’ it must relate to our understanding of our typical perceptions. For this code to function we must use a hierarchy (which is something we normally do by “focusing our attention”.) The images which use linear perspective present the viewer with a particular instance of this attention, essentially a specific moment in time. The photograph presents this aspect of perspective in its clearest way possible, but literally present a flat likeness of the locations of objects and their relationships via light. That this position is singular is evident from the monocular nature of the camera itself. The resulting appearance of depth is the same as that achieved through linear perspective itself. The similarity of this to an instant of stationary experience is why in perspectival compositions there is no real presence of time. What we are presented is a visual space without time; the image can be grasped in its entirely instantly -- because it is ordered to be seen from only one position. Once an image begins incorporating more than one possible hierarchy, the element of time reenters the space, and the result is a visual space/time.

The most successful attempts to create such a space/time image are those which require the interaction of a viewer’s perceptual systems with the arrangement of perceptual referents within the image itself. Single-frame perceptions cannot capture the entire relationship of the image because they only see one hierarchy where in fact there may be many. Time is the only vehicle where these perceptions become possible.

Copyright © Michael Betancourt  July 30, 1997  all rights reserved.

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